Bad Behaviour

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bad Behaviour
"Englert’s script is an actor’s dream. Connelly, who has matured magnificently in recent years and now ranks among the best in her generation, gives it all she’s got." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“You’re not a bad person. It’s just bad behaviour,” says Dylan (writer/director Alice Englert).

Dylan is a stunt performer, hard at work on the set of a new fantasy production. Her mother, Lucy (Jennifer Connelly), is about to disappear into what turns out to be the latest of many spiritual retreats. They speak on the phone before the retreat’s mandated silence begins. Lucy is frantic with worry. We get the impression that she does this every time. It’s a dangerous occupation, she protests. Dylan has no time for this. Her life takes place at speed. She’s always scoping out locations, suiting up, practising, performing, flirting with a colleague whilst he chokes her for the camera.

Lucy likes, perhaps needs, to take things slowly. She had a troubled childhood and there’s a suggestion that she has struggled with mental illness. She seems pretty cynical for somebody purportedly seeking transcendence, but that doesn’t phase the retreat’s guru, Elon (Ben Whishaw), who seems pleased by her intelligence and sense of humour. One gets the impression that they might make great progress together if only it weren’t for everybody else. Though Lucy makes an effort to be patient, to pull her weight, to go along with the various exercises and smile politely through other people’s shallow, intellectually vacuous contributions, the effect on her seems to be anything but relaxing.

Things come to a head with the arrival of model and influencer Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova), who barely looks 20 but is already going through a crisis about getting old, and is keen to tell everybody that life won’t be worth living then. During each moment that Lucy spends in her presence, one can feel the pressure building, Connelly’s body tensing as if filling up with steam. Will she find a means of releasing it, or is she going to explode? The moment, when it comes, is one of the most satisfying moments in any film for years – and there is still a good deal more pleasure to come.

Englert’s script is an actor’s dream. Connelly, who has matured magnificently in recent years and now ranks among the best in her generation, gives it all she’s got. No lightweight in front of the camera, Englert holds her own, making a highly effective foil, whilst Beulah Koale provides great support, his character combining the duties of defence attorney, love interest and wilderness explorer. The behaviour promised by the title is duly delivered but is charming even at its most obnoxious (unless you are a waiter, in which case you might start screaming). The film shows off the talents of its stars to great effect and is simply a delight to watch, for all its meandering whimsicality and refusal to play by the rules.

Bad Behaviour is something unique. Do not miss it.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2024
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Lucy, a former child actor, seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon while she navigates her close yet turbulent relationship with her stunt-performer daughter, Dylan.

Director: Alice Englert

Writer: Alice Englert

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Alice Englert, Ana Scotney, Dasha Nekrasova, Marlon Williams

Year: 2023

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: France, Morocco, Qatar

Festivals:

Sundance 2023

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